Samsung is not the first name that comes to mind, at least in the U.S., when we think of laptops or Netbooks, but the company has long had a sizable presence outside of the U.S. in the PC market. Over the past year or so, a handful of Samsung models have made it stateside, and we’ve even liked a few of them.
At the very least, Samsung’s NP-N210-JA02US Netbook has a slightly different look and feel than the Dell, HP, and Asus systems we’re usually surrounded by have. Its slightly larger chassis gives it a more traditional full-size laptop feel, rather than the somewhat awkward compact designs found on most other Netbooks. A potentially bigger bonus is its matte screen, which is a rarity in laptops of any size. If screen glare drives you crazy, it may be well be worth spending a little more money for this one.
Still, there’s nothing special about the Samsung’s components or performance. At $379, it’s much more expensive than other retail-specific Netbooks we’ve seen–and if you search around a bit online, you could find similar specs for as little as $299.
Most Netbooks are designed around a shallow body depth, with skinny touch pads and keyboards that spread out horizontally. That style of body is certainly easy to carry and to fit into a large range of laptop bags. However, the Samsung N210 has traditional laptop-like dimensions, closer to a square than a rectangle. This gives you a larger-than-usual wrist rest area, and room for a very nice touch pad.
A rare all-white laptop, outside of the classic MacBook, the N210 is ringed by a small silver border around the inner edge of its keyboard tray and lid, and the back of the lid is white covered by a translucent plastic layer, which adds some visual depth. Overall, it’s an unusual look, but it’s very clean and unfussy.
The slightly larger keyboard tray area allows for an uncramped keyboard layout, and the individual keys have a pleasing amount of space between them, even if the actual key faces are a bit small. Important keys such as the Shift and Tab keys get a full-size treatment, and we always appreciate dedicated page-up and page-down keys, especially on a small-screen Netbook.
This touch pad, which is more squared-off than the elongated one found on Dell’s Mini 10, was our favorite from this particular roundup of retail-specific Netbooks. The left and right mouse buttons were a hybrid between clunky rocker bars and separate buttons, and worked better than most do–Toshiba, for example, has an excellent touch pad/mouse button combo on its Netbooks.
The Samsung’s 10.1-inch display has a 1,024×600-pixel native resolution, which is standard for nonpremium Netbooks. However, at closer to $400 than $300, we’re right on the borderline of where a better 1,366×768-pixel display would be expected.
Another screen issue is how many useless icons are taking up valuable screen real estate on the desktop. Some are come-ons for a couple of online storage services, others are potentially useful system tools. However, we’re not sure we need a separate desktop icon for each one–especially as several are included in the Samsung Support Center, which also has a desktop icon. Nevertheless, points for including tools for network management, screen resolution settings, powered USB ports, and system updates. There’s even a full onscreen manual that was better than the generic booklets we usually find packed into most laptop boxes.
The faster 802.11n Wi-Fi standard is supported, but there’s no Bluetooth, which seems like a bit of an oversight for $379. Other systems with comparable component lists are available for as little as $299. For those that want a very specific feature set will have to try configuring a custom system from Dell or HP.
No prizes are awarded for figuring out that our collection of 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450/1GB RAM/Windows 7 Starter retail-specific Netbooks all performed virtually identically on our standard benchmarks. Until the rarely seen dual-core Atom 330 or other jazzed-up Netbook chips become more common–or we at least start seeing Netbooks with 2GB of RAM–you can expect performance among Netbooks to remain largely the same.